What is Cinco de Mayo? Bellevue College’s El Centro Latino sought to explain the holiday and commemorate the day with festivities on May 5 in the cafeteria. Cinco de Mayo originated as a commemoration of a battle in Mexico’s history.
In the early 1800s, Mexico was politically fragmented. Ethnic Americans declared independence and formed
the new country of Texas. In a span of 55 years, there were 75 presidents. During this time of strife, various groups were uncooperative with each other. The presiding rulers, dictators and majority- elected presidents did not pay Mexico’s national debt, and were accused with neglecting administration of far-flung states. The 2nd French Empire of Napoleon III used non-payment of debts by President Juarez as a pretext to invade Mexico and install a new
ruler thought to be better for French interests. It was claimed that France wanted to establish a strong Catholic neighbor to the growing power of protestant America. This invasion was generally successful. However, in the state of Puebla, a smaller Mexican army loyal to President Juarez, defeated a larger French army while it marched towards Mexico City. The overall war was lost and the Austrian Prince Maximillian, a French ally, was installed as
Emperor of Mexico in the Second Empire of Mexico. Three years into the Second Mexican Empire, the U.S. congress warned France to leave and Maximillan eventually withdrew from Mexico. Early U.S. foreign policy concentrated on the Western Hemisphere as part of U.S. interests, and that European empires should emphasize their own hemisphere. On hearing news of the victory at Puebla in the 1860s, ethnic Mexicans in California
held celebrations. So, it would appear the holiday originated as a celebration of the Mexican ethnicity in the U.S., and as a celebration of self- determination against European empires versus nations of the new world.
The holiday is not only celebrated by some ethnic Mexican communities in the United States, but also sometimes in Canada and the Mexican state of Puebla. The battle is generally not commemorated in Mexico. According to BC
student and folk dancer Maria Jimenez, “Cinco de Mayo is not celebrated as much in Mexico.” But BC student Francisco Enriquez dissents, “there are some fiestas” in the northern Mexican states which border the U.S. southwest because of the intermixing of cultures along the border. However, in the United States it’s a major holiday for ethnic Mexicans. Guadalupe Mendoza explains how the holiday is prominent in the U.S. As an example he mentions that in the Yakima valley it’s “their tradition” to have “dancing horses and food.”
According to BC students, the holiday has become more commercialized and emphasizes the celebration of Mexican culture. However, Maria Jimenez believes knowing the history behind the holiday makes it more meaningful. “The purpose behind the event today was teaching people what it means culturally.” In an effort to educate students, a Cinco de Mayo lecture was included in the festivities. There were also snacks for all and folk dances from the state of Jalisco.